Tag: adventure (page 3 of 4)


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“Science fiction” is a broader term than you might think. It covers a wide variety of stories, from the space exploration and future cultures of Star Trek to the time-travelling shenanigans of Doctor Who. In the best cases when it comes to science fiction films, these stories use their outlandish or otherworldly settings to tell us something about ourselves here on the mundane, present-day Earth. In the worst, they dump the latest special effects technology on the screen to make a bit of money and distract the audience from the lack of plot or multi-dimensional characters. Of course, special effects tech can be expensive, but Titan A.E. proves that sometimes the oldest tricks work the best. A bottle of ink and a little paint, after all, has got to be less expensive than a room full of top-flight computers and all of the Red Bull necessary to keep their operators going.

Courtesy Fox

The A.E. in the title stands for After Earth. This animated film begins with a malevolent alien species, the Drej, scouring our long-suffering mother world of all life. One of the survivors is Cale, whose father leaves him on the eve of Earth’s annihilation to undertake a mysterious project. The only memento Cale has of his father is a ring. Adrift and alone as one of the few remaining humans, Cale takes odd jobs as a mechanic and salvager until a rugged ship captain named Korso tracks him down. No sooner does Korso tell Cale that his father is out there waiting for him, and that his ring is the key to the project “Titan” that can rekindle the human race, the Drej show up and start blasting things. Not one to stand around and get disintegrated, Cale joins Korso and his crew in a quest to find his father, the Titan and possibly hope for his entire species.

Don Bluth is no stranger to the otherworldly and fantastical. He is, after all, the animator who gave us The Secret of NIMH, the Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace video games, An American Tail and The Land Before Time (but not its bazillion sequels). While much of his style is clear in Titan, the sheer oddness of some of the aliens and the behaviors they engage in feel much more in line with Ralph Bakshi. There’s a bit of an edginess to it, which isn’t uncommon for works from the turn of the millenium but may surprise those of you who know Bluth only due to talking cuddly dinosaurs.

Courtesy Fox
Akima: All this and brains, too.

Further pushing Titan away from the realm of children’s movies is the sheer amount of violence present. Sure, it’s mostly bloodless and taking place in the same sort of universe where you might find Luke Skywalker or his even whinier dad, but there were a couple times where I found myself gobsmacked in an “I can’t believe that just happened!” sort of way. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as savagely violent as anime entires like Ninja Scroll, but it’s a far cry from the wide-eyed optimism of Fivel the immagrant mouse.

While we’re on the subject though, Titan A.E. immediately reminded me of one of the first anime features I ever saw, Lensman. Given that the anime is an adaptation of the sci-fi novels of one E.E. “Doc” Smith, I consider this a good comparison. Titan aims to be an old-school two-fisted space western, harkening back to the days when Star Wars was unsullied by major merchandising. It’s mostly plays like Flash Gordon without the camp, but at the same time has the good sense not to take itself too seriously. A more cynical way of putting it is that they keep the story and action sequences moving so you don’t think too hard about the science.

Courtesy Fox
Somebody turned off the gravity? Korso’s shirt is unimpressed.

Since we’re in the sort of story where space is the open range and asteroids might as well be tumbleweeds, you shouldn’t expect to get a whole lot of hard science out of Titan A.E. – it’s no 2001, in more ways than one. I mean, this has plot beginning to end, instead of bookending a 20-minute character-driven tragedy with two hours of model spacecraft dancing to classical music. Anyway, while some of the things that happen do have basis in science – weightlessness, exposure to vaccuum, etc – one might be forgiven for wondering how Cale is able to safely eat extra-terrestrial food, for example. Or how the “wake angels” emit dolphin-like song in that one superfluous scene they have. It’s really not the sort of thing that detracts from this kind of story. Titan A.E. is definitely on the softer side of science fiction, as most of the technology exists primarily as a backdrop and mechanism to drive the plot. And on that level, it works. Even if we have no idea how they broke the faster-than-light barrier.

If Titan A.E. has a potentially crippling flaw, it’s the Drej. Given that this is a 2000 film, the decision to mix hand-drawn animation with CGI was innovative for its time and half the time it’s not too much of a disadvantage. The Drej, however, are so decidedly different from every other character involved in the story that they might as well not be from this story. Then again, maybe that’s the point? Anyway, the big problem with the Drej isn’t really their animation, but their motivation. They fear the potential power of humanity. Why? I mean, antagonists lose some of their mystique when their motivations are laid out for us in plain English, but at the same time little hints would be nice. Especially given the way the movie ends, it seems that the Drej were just as responsible for their inevitable defeat as Cale and the surviving humans. If they had a prophecy that drove them to scorch the Earth, shouldn’t it have included something along the lines of “Let the human race die out in peace” or “Keep destroying planets when they settle but don’t go after them when they’re transient, desperate and heroic”? There’s certainly nothing wrong with the actions of a malevolent alien race driving the plot of a story like this, but the Drej run after humanity so fast with the intent to end the race that they run themselves smack into a brick wall and brain themselves. They certainly can’t hold a candle to the Cylons. Hell, I think the Romulans could probably give them a bruising. At least Nero had a bit of charisma.

Courtesy Fox
“So, Akima… you, me, some simulated candlelight…”
“Cale? You remember I have access to large weaponry, right?”
“…We’ll talk later.”

The hero cast, on the other hand, is pretty well done. None of the characters really fall into the realm of stereotype. Co-screenwriter Joss Whedon’s trademark snarky banter shines through in some of the scenes, and there’s never a moment of over-the-top emotional dramatics from the ensemble. In fact, the heroes strike that precious balance of being both well-developed enough for us to care about their well-being and wish them success in a general sense while not trying to turn a rock-em sock-em space romp into a Greek drama. It’s a lot like the hero cast in Independence Day. And hey, that’s Bill Pullman as Korso! Coincidence? I think not!

When all is said and done, Titan A.E. can be best summed up in the word “solid.” Solid concept, solid story, solid screen-writing, solid animation and solid execution. It lurches a bit here and there, and the Drej could have used a bit more work to become truly effective, but those are mostly nitpicks. If you like the sort of action-packed space adventure where a young hero has to learn something about himself while dodging blaster fire and trading quips with an attractive and capable young lady who’s clearly no slouch when it comes to shooting back at the bad guys, you could definitely do worse than Titan A.E. and it’s worth adding to your Netflix queue for an evening’s light entertainment. It’s old-fashioned space-based fun. And I for one have to respect a movie that doesn’t screw around and blows our planet out from under us in the opening scenes. Apparently they lost track of their books in the future, though, because I didn’t see a single human being fleeing the Earth who had the good sense to take a towel with them.

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.


Logo courtesy Netflix.  No logos were harmed in the creation of this banner.


Necessity is the mother of invention. Along with being something Sherlock Holmes himself might utter while investigating a case, this idiom is also the reason I’m reviewing Guy Ritchie’s recent feature-film treatment of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective. I was originally planning to subject myself to the apparent mediocrity of The Taking of Pelham 123, since it’s been a while since I’ve found a movie average enough to warrant my ire, but my financial situation has caused Netflix to give me dirty looks instead of instantly streaming movies until I get my act together. Surprisingly, though, my desire to sound more like a critic and less like a fanboy is still going to be satisfied. You see, if it weren’t for the presence of Holmes & Watson, Sherlock Holmes would feel a lot like a movie that’s trying to both follow the lead of Pirates of the Caribbean and shamelessly appeal to the steampunk kids.

Courtesy Warner Bros.

When it comes to Victorian England it’s hard to imagine a detective with more fame, quirks and intensity than Sherlock Holmes. He’s often called in by Scotland Yard to help them solve the more baffling crimes that cross their desk, when he isn’t employed by private interests. For years, assistance has come to Holmes in the person of John Watson, an Army veteran and skilled doctor. However, Watson is intending to get married which means he’ll be moving out of their shared living quarters on 221B Baker Street. Holmes is, for his part, unhappy with this situation and thus begins acting out, until the perpetrator of the last case on which the men worked, one Lord Blackwood, apparently rises from the dead. If there’s anybody from London that can figure out how this resurrection worked, it’s Sherlock Holmes.

Then again, neither Encyclopedia Brown nor Nancy Drew had been born yet. The main plot of Sherlock Holmes isn’t really all that mysterious. There’s no real cunning at work that Dan Brown couldn’t cook up to sell a few more novels that have readers picturing Tom Hanks in a hilarious mullet. It isn’t necessarily bad writing, as the facts do come together relatively well without major plot holes. If you pay attention, you can see what’s really going on even as people are bandying about words like “the dark arts” and “sacred order” as if Voldemort’s about to show up. (Wow, I am really going for a high score of pop culture references, aren’t I?)

Courtesy Warner Bros.
The definition of bromance.

Now, if that was where the film stopped, just at the not-so-mysterious mystery plot, I’d pass it up. But it gives us something great wrapped around this somewhat mediocre story. Robert Downey Jr. is, to be honest, the sort of Holmes I always envisioned Holmes as being. Now, I’ve enjoyed the portrayal of the legendary detective by the likes of Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett, but this disheveled, twitchy, slightly neurotic and way too brilliant for his own good Holmes really strikes a chord with me. Brilliance and madness are separated by only the thinnest of lines, and while past Holmes often play with that division, Downey dances across that line with a sense of abandon that’s a joy to behold. He’s not quite as great as Hugh Laurie’s Doctor House, but he’s pretty damn close.

Over and above Downey’s performance is that of Jude Law as Watson. A lot of people who’ve gotten hold of Doyle’s material seem to think that Holmes should always be the brilliant one and Watson should only play second fiddle, being two steps behind Holmes or so rotund he has trouble keeping up. Guy Ritchie and the writers chuck those previous notions out the window, embracing Watson as an equal to Holmes, not just a straight man to the main act. Again, someone’s been watching episodes of House, since this Watson, which may be the best I’ve ever seen, strikes a resemblance with that mad doctor’s long-suffering best friend, Wilson. Together, Downey and Law have fantastic chemistry that makes the B-plot of Watson’s upcoming marriage every bit as engaging as the arcane conspiracy A-plot tries to be.

Courtesy Warner Bros.
“Join me, Holmes, and I’ll make you forget all about Watson. We’ll be together every night.”
“…Blackwood, are you asking me out?”

On top of the two leading men are multiple things for Sherlockians to enjoy. There’s a lot of references to things mentioned even in passing within the pages of Doyle’s 56 short stories and 4 novels featuring Holmes. From a certain bullet pattern to Holmes’ substance abuse, if you pay attention you’ll be able to draw all sorts of parallels and point to where these references are rooted. A reference that requires no research is the presence of Irene Adler, played delightfully by Rachel McAdams. Mentioned in one story as a woman that bested Holmes at his own game, Adler has grown to rather gargantuan proportions in later fan works. The notion that Holmes would occasionally box is ramped up to give the film more action, and a gadget fixation that was tangential at best allows some of the technology of the Victorian era that inspired the steampunk movement to appear along side the two-fisted adventuring and witty banter. None of this is bad, per se, but it does feel at times like a bit of pandering.

The interesting thing is, none of these elements that I’ve taken shots at really stop the film from holding up as a well-paced period adventure. Sherlock Holmes works, and I was entertained pretty much from start to finish. If the mystery had been a little bit more clever I would be tempted to consider it a must-buy. As it is, it’s definitely worth a rental before you decide to buy it. I’m definitely curious to watch it again to see if there are more Doyle references I missed the first time. There’s also the fact I watched it without my wife and she’s going to love this Holmes.

Courtesy Warner Bros.
“Blackwood came on to me, if you can believe that.”
“I can indeed. You do look like Tony Stark.”

In closing, I can’t help but feel like Guy Ritchie cribbed a few notes from Christopher Nolan. Yeah, I know, more pop culture references incoming, but stick with me. At the end of Batman Begins, Gordon hands the Caped Crusader a particular playing card. Guess who showed up in The Dark Knight and pretty much walked away with the whole damn picture? Now, I’m not saying that the similar mention made in Sherlock Holmes is going to result in a similar outcome, but I’ve heard the likes of Chrisoph Waltz and Daniel Day-Lewis are up for the part in question. I think we’ll be finding out next year, and I’ll be trying really hard not to get my hopes up. With a Holmes and Watson this good, could we please have a villain worthy of their abilities that doesn’t come off as over-the-top or campy? Can we please have a sequel to a film based on one of the foundational works responsible for my interest in fiction that works as well as The Two Towers did in relation to Fellowship of the Ring? Guy Ritchie, if you read or hear this, mate, would you please make sure the sequel to Sherlock Holmes doesn’t suck?


Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! The Adventures of Robin Hood

Logo courtesy Netflix.  No logos were harmed in the creation of this banner.


Long before things like 3-D, CGI, THX and all those other wonderful acronyms came along, films were seen as extensions of the stage. Actors brought their best Shakespearean bombast, sets were designed as you would the sort of staging you’d have to quickly break down in the dark between acts, and directors framed and propelled their shots in a particular way. If 1938’s classic swashbuckler The Adventures of Robin Hood has a flaw, that’d probably be the biggest one. It’s also completely irrelevant, however, as this is the sort of movie where I can use the words ‘classic swashbuckler’ with an entirely straight face.

Courtesy Warner Bros

King Richard I of England is on his way back from the Crusades when he gets tied up in Austria. Literally. Some guy named Leopold takes him prisoner. Richard’s little brother John takes over and immediately starts oppressing the Saxon commoners, fattening the purses of the Norman land-holders to build up support for his bid for England’s throne. The big thorn in John’s side is the Saxon Robin, Earl of Locksley, who sees right through John’s public decrees that the increased taxes are to pay Richard’s ransom and vows to do everything in his power to stop the oppression and restore Richard to his throne. Sir Guy of Gisbourne, John’s aide de camp, makes a vow of his own, which is to see Robin dangling from the end of a rope, especially when the lovely Maid Marian starts warming to Robin’s roguish charm instead of falling for Guy’s Norman sensibilities and position. There’s plenty of sword fighting, swinging from ropes, and the sort of laughs men make by putting their hands on their hips and engaging their diaphragms.

As I said, this is a classic swashbuckler. The classic part of that comes from the Oscar-winning score and art direction, as well as the acting. The story isn’t all that original but it’s being told with such adventurous abandon and honest charm that the premise never gets in the way of the fun. Sure, the sets look a bit two-dimensional in places, the lighting isn’t always appropriate for the fictional time of day or night and there’s more than enough men in green tights on display to give Mel Brooks something to parody, but in the case of this Robin Hood it’s easy to brush all of that aside. The way in which this movie is acted, shot and presented is so rousing, colorful, lighthearted and satisfying that it could have been shot in the round against a black background and it’d still be entertaining.

Courtesy Warner Bros
“So, I heard you like venison…”

Errol Flynn in particular possesses so much charisma and wit that it’s obvious why he became the iconic Robin Hood for years. He takes a film with a setting, story and style that would normally mark it as charmingly camp, and elevates it to being just plain charming. He has chemistry with Olivia de Havilland, who manages to look glamorous even when she’s wearing some pretty ridiculous headgear. By this point they’d already worked together on two pictures, one of which being the equally iconic Captain Blood which also paired Flynn with one Basil Rathbone.

This is one of the earliest instances I can recall of seeing a main villain who keeps their hands clean while a top lieutenant does the dirty work with relish – a Big Bad and a Dragon, if you will. In Robin Hood, Claude Rains and Basil Rathbone demonstrate exactly how this dynamic should work. Rains’ Prince John is affable, magnanimous, crafty and ruthless all at the same time, and while he never becomes physically involved in the goings-on, his presence is undeniable. Rathbone’s Sir Guy, on the other hand, has little patience for posturing and politics, spending most of his time waiting for Prince John to tell him who he gets to stab next. Long before things like powered armor or automatic weapons were born, Basil Rathbone used tone, poise and expression to show audiences exactly what it means to be the biggest badass in the room.

Courtesy Warner Bros
Prince John’s “WAT.” face

There’s even a touch of a villainous Power Trio, with Melville Cooper’s somewhat rotund and cowardly Sheriff of Nottingham revealing himself to be a pretty smart guy. However, the most interesting relationship is that between Robin and Sir Guy. These are two men who are completely confident in their own abilities, are vying for the affections of the same woman and serve two entirely different masters. Underneath the story stuff, however, is the chemistry between Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone. It’s particularly telling in their swordplay, which segues me into the ‘swashbuckling’ portion of this ‘classic swashbuckler.’

The swordfights that happen in Robin Hood are fun to watch, with high energy and great music underscoring the tension. The movements are large and deliberate, swords clash against one another and the hero and villain exchange blows on spiral stairs, or wander out of shot for their shadows to do the dueling. This is the textbook example of well-choreographed cinematic swordplay, even if trying to engage someone in a sword fight in real life using these techniques would quickly get one skewered. It’s the kind of swordplay that makes films like the aforementioned Captain Blood, 1940’s The Sea Hawk and The Princess Bride such swashbuckling classics – and those are good examples of how these fights are staged, a method sometimes referred to as Flynning. Guess why.

Courtesy Warner Bros
“But enough talk! Have at you!”

This isn’t to say that it looks terribly fake. Outside of the occasional set or lighting error, Robin Hood looks great all around. While the costuming’s probably not terribly historically accurate, it’s quite sumptuous and atmospheric, and being shot in Technicolor, everything’s got a bit of a bright sheen on it. And while the aforementioned sword fights aren’t necessarily realistic, they don’t look bad at all, either. Hell, Basil Rathbone was an accomplished fencer as well as a great actor, and he used his skill to make sure he let Errol Flynn have a convincing win!

Whups, sorry, should’ve put a spoiler alert on that one.

Anyway, The Adventures of Robin Hood is a classic that might show its age in places, but has definitely aged gracefully. It’s exciting and fun to watch without being dumb or terribly formulaic, which is more than can be said for a lot of films being made some 70 years later. The cast is charming, the action is well done and the story, while familiar, is told with enough touches of freshness that it’s still interesting after repeated viewings. I say give it a look. If you have already seen it, I have to ask this one question: Where the hell did the phrase “lusty infant” come from?

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

Game Review: Assassin’s Creed II

I’ve discussed Assassin’s Creed previously, though not at any significant length. I couldn’t even call what I said a ‘review’ with any fairness, since I only played a bit of the game. There were a few things I liked about the first game, such as the environments, the framing element of the story and the stealth-focused means of assassinating people pretending to be pious. However, the seemingly shameless padding of always restarting from the top of Alamut, doing a specific set of tasks to gather intelligence and the inevitable rousing of Desmond from his recollections of his time as Altair for some exposition dispensed in the somewhat bland near-future setting. The sequel of that game begins by sneaking up behind those elements, breaking their necks and tossing them from the nearest balcony.

Courtesy Ubisoft
Sam Fisher wishes he looked this good.

Assassin’s Creed II begins with Desmond being liberated from the laboratory of Abstergo Industries where Dr Breen Vidic has held him hostage. Kristen Bell Lucy orchestrates this liberation and takes him to a secret hideout where a snarky British bookworm and a relatively cute tech-inclined girl have assembled an “improved” version of the Animus device that took Desmond back in time to relive Altair’s memories. This time, they need him to enter the persona of a different ancestor, in order to actually learn assassin skills rather than just watching them happen. The ancestor in question is one Ezio Auditore de Firenze, and if I’m honest, he very quickly became one of my favorite video game protagonists of recent memory.

When we first meet Ezio as a young man, he’s a brash, carefree, womanizing and somewhat selfish rich kid. But he’s also charming, handsome, cares about his family and isn’t unintelligent or dull. The setting of the game, Italy during the Renaissance, is incredibly immersive, partially because of the painstakingly rendered cities and partially because of the voice acting. Maybe it’s the talent and maybe it’s the Italian, but the passion of these characters comes through the pixels very easily and pulls the player in almost immediately. The characters aren’t quite as realistically rendered as in, say, Dragon Age, but it’s rare to see the characters in Assassin’s Creed II come down with the “BioWare face”.

Courtesy Ubisoft

The point to this is that Ezio exhibits growth, which I really appreciated. The young man we meet when Desmond first enters the Animus is not the same man who travels to Tuscany and later Venice as he hunts down his targets. Speaking of the Animus, the scenes outside of Italy back in the near-future have been cut down significantly to a few key scenes throughout the game. The nice thing about this, other than spending most of our time with Ezio doing pretty much whatever we like, is that the near-future scenes never feel terribly superfluous, as we learn more about what the struggle between the Assassins and the Templars is like in the near-future as opposed to how it works in the Renaissance.

The story in Assassin’s Creed II also becomes infused with the kind of material that make the conspiracies of Hideo Kojima’s games seem like a badly written episode of Heroes. From his previous over-exposure to the Animus, Desmond has acquired the ‘eagle vision’ used by his ancestors, and found some messages written in blood back at Abstergo by the room’s previous occupant, ‘Subject 16’. Slightly insane thanks to Abstergo’s experiments, he managed to hack the Animus and place clues throughout the landscape for Desmond to uncover, leading him to the ‘Pieces of Eden’ that the Templars desperately want to acquire. These are ancient artifacts of unspeakable power that have been handed down through the ages, and the Assassins and Templars have each struggled to get their hands on them. No further information on Subject 16 is available, but his voice is so familiar

Courtesy Cam Clarke
Possible identities of Subject 16…

Instead of restricting the player to a specific series of tasks that need to be completed before stabbing somebody, Assassin’s Creed II allows you a lot more freedom. The free-running game-play is just as fun and intuitive as the previous title, though some players might be frustrated by sections that actually require precision platforming to do some puzzle-solving. Also, there’s a side-quest involving Ezio acquiring art and fixing up storefronts around his home villa to increase his income, but other than buying better weapons you never really need as much money as you get. While I appreciate the fact that there’s an in-game explanation for money being a non-issue for Ezio, there comes a point where you’re getting a lot more money than you know what to do with, and the best armor in the game is actually available for free if you can stand the aforementioned platform puzzle bits. You don’t even have to touch the villa if you really don’t want to, and don’t mind coming home to a termite-infested flophouse every time you have Leonardo decipher another few Codex pages, as the side missions all pay you money anyway. Of course some of the locals can smell the aroma of flesh florins on you, and wandering minstrels come out of the woodwork to ply you for some with badly-sung ballads they’ll warble at you until you shut them up, be it with coin-tossing or the back of your hand. I’m probably getting a bit nit-picky at this point, but bear with me, I’ve only got one more nit to pick, and that’s the combat.

I appreciate that the game allows us to see how badass Ezio becomes, and since he’s so impressively killative, the combat never feels terribly challenging once you master the counter and dodge moves. While this might seem a little too easy for some, and I for one never felt like Ezio was truly in mortal danger, the player has the opportunity to sit back and try different things when a fight happens. Bored with the sword? Pull out the dagger for a bit. Do you like that poleaxe a Brute is trying to shove down your throat? Grab it from him and hit him in the face. The options available to Ezio do ease the tedium of the combat a bit, and I’d even go so far as to say that the tedious nature of combat works in the game’s favor. While it isn’t hard for the most part, being tedious means a player might not want to waste time with it, opting instead to hire a few hookers as a distraction, parkour themselves into place for an optimum kill or find other creative ways to clear the path between Ezio and his unfortunate target. As an aside, try poisoning one of the guards and then throwing money at the feet of a nearby crowd. Trust me.

Courtesy Ubisoft

Stuff I Liked: The music, voice acting, story elements and controls remain some of the better points of this growing series of games. Also, the ending of the game first has Ezio do something incredibly ballsy and awesome and follows that with some of the best busting of the fourth wall I’ve seen since I read the Deadpool comic book.
Stuff I Didn’t Like: I would have much rather gotten more use out of Leonardo’s flying machine or more dialog with Paola or Bartolomeo than have as much to do with the villa as we did.
Stuff I Loved: There’s an incredible sense of freedom to be experienced in Assassin’s Creed II that I for one really appreciated. Provided you don’t run around hacking up innocents, you can do pretty much anything you like in the beautiful setting of Renaissance Italy, and that in and of itself is tons of fun. “Everything is permitted” indeed.

Bottom Line: I recommend that you rent the game first if you’re unsure about it. Also, playing the first game isn’t a requirement, but you might have a better understanding of the game and its setting if you do so. Either way, there’s a lot to like about this game, and I consider it worth the money of a purchase.

“Faffing About” Creed Indeed

Courtesy Ubisoft

Yahtzee put it best. Released in 2007, Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed is a decent game with an interesting concept and good story let down by a few things that I’m going to dive into right now. This isn’t really a review, though I’m filing it as such. It’s more of a ‘first impressions’ overview because I got about three hours into the game, realized how much tedium I’d have to repeat and decided I’d finished wasting my time with it and went back to wasting my time with World of Warcraft.

One of the things that I really enjoyed about the Prince of Persia games on the PS2 was the free running you could do, basically holding down two buttons in such a way that the rather charming and very human prince of thieves jumps, swings, runs and leaps across ancient palaces full of nasty traps and nastier enemies made of sand. However, you were always going from point A to B, so any sense of freedom engendered by this mode of transportation seemed to deflate once you arrived. Then again, it was also buoyed up by knowing exactly where you were going.

In Assassin’s Creed, you’re free to run, jump, swing and fall on your face anywhere in the 11th century Holy Land you damn well please. That is if the guards aren’t trying to turn you into chunky salsa. But let me back up and talk about the story.

From the promotional art and trailers it seemed that the game was an action-adventure-platformer set in the aforementioned Holy Land where you play an assassin dispatching some of those dirty amoral Christians everybody loves hating so much. But Ubisoft lied to us. Assassin’s Creed is really about this guy named Desmond, strapped to a table in a lab located twenty minutes into the future where an evil scientist who really isn’t Dr. Breen from Half-Life 2 wants to mine the genetic memories of his 11th century ancestor, Altaiir. Now, I have to give Ubisoft props for making an action protagonist who’s of Middle Eastern descent and not characterizing him as a crazed fundamental Jihadist. Then again, Altaiir was just a touch more bland and emotionless than Desmond himself, but at least he wasn’t pursuing his targets the way Glenn Beck pursues anybody with a functioning frontal lobe or decent sense of morality.

Ah, shit, I promised I’d keep politics & religion out of this blog, didn’t I. Dammit.

Anyway, the game. Altaiir is tasked with taking down a series of extremely nasty Crusaders who are making life miserable for pretty much everybody and begins to uncover an ancient battle between his people, the Assassins, and a rather well-organized secret order of amoral knights called Templars. The Templars tend to get the short end of the stick in historical fiction, big examples being Kingdom of Heaven and anything Dan Brown writes, while at other times they’re actually shown to be somewhat virtuous, i.e. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Knowing some of the members of their spiritual descendants, the Freemasons, I find it hard to believe that the Templars are as dirty and horrible as some like to characterize them. However, that’s the route Assassin’s Creed goes, and Altaiir has quite a few pseudo-pious throats to puncture.

However, there’s a lot standing between you and your targets. Every time you jump into a new memory, you begin at your home base, which is at the top of a mountain far from any sort of Western civilization. While I can appreciate this from a historical perspective, as Alamut was indeed used by the Hashshashins as a refuge and fortress, walking down from the peak all the way down to the stables every single time was pretty much the definition of tedium. When you do get to the stables, you have to resist the urge to gallop off to your next target, since the Crusaders who patrol the roads of the Holy Land don’t want you to hurt yourself by riding too fast, and why don’t you have any papers for that horse? You need to get your horse inspected and registered every 12 months, or they’ll slap you with a fine. And by ‘fine’ I mean ‘longsword up the ass.’

Anyway, so you’ve hiked all the way down Alamut and gotten to Jerusalem or whereever at a slightly faster pace than your own brisk walk by having your horse do a brisk walk. Time to get your stabbing on, right? Wrong! You need to ‘gather intelligence’. And by ‘gather intelligence’ I mean ‘run around doing chores at the behest of NPCs before someone will tell you where the damn target is.’ You deliver messages, beat up bad guys (but without killing them, that’d summon the legions of Crusaders waiting around the corner to slay you for Jesus), sweep chimneys, walk dogs, babysit, run to the store, help little old ladies across the street and generally do everything for everybody in sight like this is an 11th-century MMOG and you’re trying to grind your way up to a more impressive hood.

When you finally find out where your target is, Assassin’s Creed adds something to the ‘good’ column under ‘breathtaking environments’, ‘intuitive free-running’ and ‘original story-framing idea’. You plan your route to where the target’s hanging out to make sure you avoid being seen by his cronies, make your way there stealthily either by moving through the crowd or via a tricky Parkour sequence that belies the peacefulness of the scene, leap onto the bad guy and slam your retractable blade into their larynx. Awesome!

But wait – the target has something to say. In fact, these guys have a lot to say. Even after you’ve sprung your sharp implement of holy death and driven it home, they’ll clearly tell you something about the ongoing conspiracy or their apple-cheeked children or something, with nary a gurgle or spattering of blood. Are they telepathic or something? How can you soliloquize when you’ve got a gaping hole in your voice box?

Following a successful assassination you are rubber-banded back into Desmond, who has a near-future room to hang out in between the near-future experiments on his near-future brain. And once you’re strapped back into the Animus, whammo, you’re back on top of Alamut again. It was around the third time that this happened that my patience for the game ran out.

“It’s like you’re enjoying a nice (if somewhat bland) grilled cheese sandwich livened up by intermittent lumps of Branston pickle, when someone snatches it from your mouth and replaces it with a spoonful of watery ejaculate between two peices of wood.” – Yahtzee

I do consider that a bit of a shame, because Assassin’s Creed had a lot going for it. The story seemed interesting and the free-running and sealth-assassining was fun, but the tedium of going from one place to another, all of the crap I had to take care of before I could stab with impunity got on my nerves and the lepers and beggars who ran up to me begging for cash really tempted me to break the first rule of the Creed, which is ‘Never harm an innocent’. I harmed quite a few, only to get desynchronized (read: killed) when the Crusaders nearby jumped on me for giving the beggar a discouraging poke. With my hidden blade. In the face.

This turned into a bit more of a rant than I expected, but I wanted to revisit my thoughts on Assassin’s Creed because I’m playing the sequel when I’m not sinking more time into the Mass Effect universe. So how does Assassin’s Creed II stack up? I’ll let you know when I finish playing it. Yes, I’m going to finish it, which says something for it right there. And here’s something else.

You know how Yahtzee described Assassin’s Creed as, at first, a nice little grilled cheese & Branston sandwich? Assassin’s Creed II is, so far, the same sandwich with a nice thin layer of prosciutto added for extra deliciousness. And nobody’s come to snatch it yet, which is a good thing because I love prosciutto to pieces.

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